Whether you slice them onto a burger fresh off the grill, pop them into a salad to add some color and texture, or sautée them with garlic for a hearty pasta dish, nothing punches up a meal quite like fresh tomatoes.
Particularly when they’re in season—between May and October—this juicy fruit (yes, it’s technically a fruit) is big not only on flavor but also on potential health benefits. That said, tomatoes aren’t for everyone. They happen to be one of the most common food allergies. They can also cause some unpleasant digestive symptoms in some people. On the other hand, tomatoes also happen to be antioxidant powerhouses and packed with many other essential vitamins and nutrients.
With that in mind, here are some surprising things that can happen to your body when you eat fresh tomatoes. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss Secret Side Effects of Eating Watermelon, Says Science.
Tomatoes are chock-full of carotenoids, a particular type of antioxidant that protects your skin from sun damage, according to Elena Paravantes, RDfounder of the Olive Tomato blog and author of The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Beginners.
In fact, one 2017 study in Scientific Reports found that regular tomato consumption may prevent you from getting sunburns, thereby reducing your risk of UVB-induced skin tumors.
Tomatoes don’t just boost the flavor of your meal—they may also boost your mood in the long run, too.
A 2013 study in The Journal of Affective Disorders found that participants who ate tomatoes two to six times a week were 46% less likely to report mild or severe symptoms of depression compared with those who ate tomatoes less than once a week. Notably, other vegetables used in the study did not produce this same effect.
“Researchers aren’t sure which nutrients cause that effect but they believe it may be the antioxidants—including lycopene,” says Paravantes.
Tomatoes aren’t for everyone. If you have acid reflux, for example, this particular fruit can trigger your symptoms, causing a slew of unpleasant symptoms like heartburn, bloating, or indigestion.
“Fresh tomatoes are packed with citric and malic acids which tend to increase stomach acids,” says Nataly Komova, DR, a fitness expert at JustCBD. “Regular intake of fresh tomatoes spikes excessive production of gastric juice, which can worsen acid reflux.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t eat tomatoes at all if you have acid reflux, but you’ll likely need to stick to small quantities and monitor your symptoms.
Did you know that some foods actually help your body absorb other nutrients better? Tomatoes are one such food, according to Blanca Garcia, RDN, a nutrition specialist for Health Canal. Specifically, they may help you absorb iron, a mineral that plays a key role in making hemoglobin and myoglobin, proteins that help carry oxygen to the muscles and organs throughout the body.
Garcia says tomatoes are able to accomplish this because of their impressive vitamin C: A 1-cup serving contains 27% of your recommended daily value.
“Vitamin C is needed to make collagen, a protein found in connective tissues that helps with wound healing,” says Garcia. “Having a steady intake of vitamin C can help your body heal faster when you cut yourself, are recovering from surgery, or have a pressure wound from being bedridden.”
In fact, a 2016 study of hospital patients in the International Journal of Surgery found that when subjects took 1,000-milligram supplements of vitamin C, they experienced “drastically” faster and better healing of “extensive and complicated” wounds.
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more